Chicago’s restaurants are used to tough times. With average temperatures in the low 20s and highs in the low 30s during January and February, people are typically holed up during the winter. In 2018, when cold weather hung around like an unwanted guest into April, chains like McDonald’s, Dunkin’ and Darden saw a half-percentage point decline in same-store sales early in the second quarter. And in 2019, when temperatures dipped to 33 degrees below zero during a polar vortex in late January, restaurant traffic for both QSRs and full-service restaurants fell 11% compared to three weeks prior.
But the pandemic’s overlap with Chicago’s icy weather proved a brutal combination for local restaurants. Establishments such as Longman & Eagle, Cobblestone in Lincoln Square, The Dearborn and Grant Park Bistro, decided to temporarily close their doors during the winter instead of trying to battle two equally difficult forces. As Longman & Eagle co-owner Peter Toalson told the Chicago Tribune, it would’ve been more expensive to stay open when you calculated the cost of cleaning, salaries, benefits and wasted food with no sales.
These closures not only put jobs in jeopardy but also the city’s culture. Chicago doesn’t have big tourist attractions like the Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles or Central Park in New York City. Instead, restaurants are the draw for locals and tourists alike, especially on the weekends in fall and early winter, Pete Ternes, owner of brew pub Middle Brow, said.